There’s a tendency among gallery-goers to find some great moral message hidden within an artist’s work, especially when the work is abstract. (“What is the artist trying to address by placing that there?”) Asking these questions can be fun or frustrating or both, depending on your style. So when I sat down with Kamila Glowacki to discuss “Saccharine,” her new art exhibition opening February 11th at the Women’s Resources Center, I was pleasantly surprised by her emphasis on how her art affects people emotionally rather than morally. By viewing the pieces which hung around us, I found this intention made more and more sense. Through her imaginative blend of bright eye-catching colors and less pleasant images of rotting fruit and bugs, Glowacki instills a feeling of attract-and-repel that tightens its hold on your attention the longer you look at it.
Glowacki began making art from an early age, encouraged by the creative environment she grew up in. “My mom says I could draw before I could talk,” she jokes. “It’s just always felt like a very natural thing [to me]. Even before coming to school I was like, ‘Well of course I’m going to be doing something in art!’” Naturally, she went on to pursue degrees in art education and painting at the University of Illinois.
While in school, Glowacki’s boundless creative energy drew her into not only the visual arts, but also music. Eventually, these two interests began to overlap. In addition to playing in a handful of bands, she drew up designs for concert flyers, t-shirts, and album artwork. “I was always — my art was — very much connected to that scene,” Glowacki says. Even after she graduated in fall of 2013, Glowacki maintained an artistic presence in the Champaign-Urbana community. It was her involvement in print-making for local events that drew the attention of Rachel Storm, assistant director of the Women’s Resources Center.
“I was familiar with Kamila Glowacki’s work after she designed the poster for the 2013 Midwest Zine Fest held at the Independent Media Center in Urbana,” Storm explains. “The Women’s Resources Center boasts its own feminist zine collection, and we were also present at the festival.”
The WRC makes an effort to feature the creative works of female UIUC alumni and artists in monthly exhibits which are free and open for public viewing. When the offer was made to Glowacki to have her own exhibition at the center, she accepted with great enthusiasm. And when I say “great” enthusiasm, I mean a fist-pump-in-the-air Yes! Creating an exhibit takes a lot of dedication and thought, but Glowacki took to it with purpose. “I wanted to use it as an opportunity to force myself to make new work because I work well with deadlines. It motivates me more.”
Glowacki credits a lot of her inspiration to art history. For “Saccharine”, she was particularly drawn to “Vanitas,” a style of painting popularized by 17th century Dutch artists. They were essentially depressed still-life paintings, depicting objects like fruit and skulls as rotten and decayed. The message behind these works was to warn onlookers against the succulence of earthly pleasures. Everything is temporary, they seem to whisper.
There are also hints of the modern pop art movement in “Saccharine.” The first piece in sight upon entering the exhibit looks oddly reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s multi-colored prints of Marilyn Monroe. These bright colors stick out equally with the darker, grosser elements in the pictures that harken to the more recent punk art scene. The spiral of a snail shell, the spiral of a twisting rope, the spiral of an ice cream cone. This playful hodgepodge of images leaves the eye in an endless tug-of-war between pleasure and disgust. To Glowacki, this visual anomaly isn’t necessarily for shock value so much as a personal statement. “My art is much more sweet and approachable,” she explains. “Even the gross parts aren’t that gross. Like, it’s just a bug. I think that just reflects my personality and who I am. I don’t want to gross people out. I hope [“Saccharine”] gives people that same comfort and satisfaction as eating candy [or] that pleasure that you get from eating your favorite food. It’s not a huge moral message or anything — it’s purely just fun and pleasurable to look at.”
Over the past few years, Glowacki’s works have been featured at various exhibitions in the Champaign-Urbana area and greater Chicagoland, including the Indi Go Artist Co-op and the Polish Museum of America. For most part, these are “traditional” gallery venues. The Women’s Resources Center, on the other hand, is “nontraditional” in that it is used for many programs and discussions about feminism, gender issues, and identity. When I asked Glowacki how she felt about her art being featured in this type of setting, she responded, “It’s very important to me. I mean, I definitely identify myself as a feminist, and I’ve really enjoyed the WRC, the fact that it is a safe space and such a large campus and community. Being able to contribute something that could potentially make someone feel happy or good even for a minute in this safe space is just awesome to me. If it can provide comfort or just make a great environment even a little bit more approachable, more enjoyable, to be in is really important to me and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
“Saccharine” will officially open to the public on Feb 11th at 5:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Women’s Resources Center (703 S. Wright Street in Champaign). Refreshments and sweet treats will be provided. For more information on future exhibitions and weekly programs, check out the WRC’s website.